We go in at seven in the evening, and the sun had already set. The nights are cool, not cold, at first but the chill sets in and each hour brings a little more need for a warm hat or a coat. The city of Valdosta, or town of Valdosta, however you want to look at it, is busy until about nine and then everything begins to settle down. People are already at work if they have to be, and they are home if they want to be, and by midnight there will be no one out who doesn’t have a reason to be.
After midnight, that’s when the true weirdness begins, and it will last for about five hours, until the early morning people begin to start their daily migrations to the gym and then to work, or just to work. From midnight until that point, however, there will be caffeine, and there will be more than a few glances at the cell phone to check the time, and more than a few wishes for the time to move forward more quickly, and a lot of yawning.
Downtown Valdosta doesn’t have an overabundance of foot traffic after midnight, but there are a few people out. Some go to work at odd hours, no set schedule, you can see them with coolers with lunches in them, safety vests, work boots on, a hard hat slung over the shoulder by a strap, or perhaps, a shovel riding shotgun over the handlebars of a bicycle. These are normal people, as far as we know, trying to make a living in some way. I just hope the shovel guy isn’t out looking for road kill.
A woman approached me as I came out of a convenience store and asked me if I would give her a ride. She was young, maybe in her early twenties, dark-skinned, sounded local, and pretty. I asked her where she was heading and she said, “Anywhere I can get twenty dollars” and she leered at me. I told her I didn’t have twenty dollars, and she replied she willing to go for a shorter trip, for ten bucks.
When I was in Basic Training they let us have a night out on the town, and I stayed in the barracks and read “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. One of the guys got picked up by a woman in a bar. She took him to her hotel room and when he got his pants off her boyfriend came in. The poor Private, with his privates hanging out, jumped through a window to escape and wound up getting cut up by the glass and he lost his wallet in the process.
I’ve never thought a strange girl off the street was a good idea, to begin with.
One of the resident homeless guys, Ernie is still around. I first met him in 2006, and he looks like he’s aged poorly on the road. He’s fueled by alcohol and no matter how genuine he might sound, and he does, all he really wants is money for cheap beer. I bought him some canned goods one night at a truck stop and he tried to trade it in for beer after I left. The cashier ratted him out the next time I went in but I suspected it already.
There’s a man handing out tiny bibles and then explaining how much he spends buying them. I know better than to engage this type so I move past without a word.
In every niche, there are creatures who live there, survive there, and some are only passing through. The dawn still hasn’t arrived at six when we leave, but the morning traffic has picked up, and the night creatures disappear.